In Where the Edge Is, disaster befalls a small town in Cork when a bus falls into a sinkhole in the road. The bus is trapped at an angle. Two people at the front of the bus are brought to safety quite soon, but a handful of passengers are at the back and rescuing them will be dangerous and difficult — if they are even alive.
This sounds like a textbook disaster thriller, however Where the Edge Is is actually a quiet, character-driven story told in taut, understated prose from the perspectives of a number of characters. These include Nina, a journalist reporting on the story, Tim, the liaison for the fire service and Richie, the driver of the bus, each already struggling with issues of their own.
As we learn more about the people on the bus, their desperate families, and the professionals gathered at the scene, the layers build to tell a story about individual grief and trauma, about community loss, and about the wider social and political culture that led to the accident – and colours its response.
There is a poignant sense of what might have been, beginning with the decision of the passengers that morning to sit at the back of the bus because a homeless woman – who gained entry with a fake bus pass – was occupying the front and they wanted to avoid her. Each person has a different reason to be there — and a reason why they might easily have been somewhere else.
I loved the voice of this Where the Edge Is, the observation, the sensitive insights. However, I did feel like the novel needed more pace and drama. There was some repetition in the thoughts of the characters, and similarities in their backstories (rather than contrasting experiences that resonate thematically). Some scenes were actually narrated twice from different points of view, but without offering any fresh insights.
One of the reflections of the characters is that people become bored of hearing about grief, that after a certain amount of time they don’t want to hear it again. I felt guilty for having the same thought myself while reading! That’s the trick with fiction, though, isn’t it? To convey unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations while making the experience of reading somehow transcend them.
I did, though, enjoy the observations about public grief, how it becomes somehow packaged and homogenised in everything from radio phone-ins to social media, how people who react differently to loss are viewed with suspicion or resentment.
Where the Edge Is may not hold your attention if you’re looking for an action thriller, but the lovely writing and subtle examination of grief will appeal if you enjoy a more literary approach.
I received a copy of Where the Edge Is from the publisher via Netgalley.
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